Sequim schools celebrate classified employees

Sequim School District recognized Washington's Classified School Employees' Week, which was March 9-13. There are 167 classified staff in the Sequim School District and all of them play a role in keeping schools running efficiently and safely.

Classified employees' jobs range from bus driving, to cooking to helping students read, to mopping the floor.

"I believe everyone in our district serves an important role and is critical to making things run. Our classified employees are sometimes the first and last people to see students during the day at school," said Bill Bentley, school superintendent.

"We cannot do what we do without them."

Tom Stumbaugh, a grounds-keeper for 12 years with Sequim schools, feels his work supports those in and out of the classroom.

"I consider my role here as supporting teachers and learning. I want to increase student awareness and understanding of the things around them," Stumbaugh said.

He said students often comment on his work outside. Stumbaugh tries to plan gardens and paths to promote students' health and travels. He uses little to no pesticides around the school and will wait until long school breaks to spray weeds.

"If you don't take into account human nature with Mother Nature, then it is a losing battle," he said.

Stumbaugh takes care of all the school grounds' presentation, flowerbeds and irrigation.

"He probably knows more about irrigation than anyone else I know," said John McAndie, maintenance supervisor.

In the wintertime, Stumbaugh repairs bad valves, piping and adds irrigation. Like many other classified employees, he'll fill in wherever he is needed.

"The best part about my job is that it is 'see and do.' I'm always looking for new things to do."

Born in San Diego, Calif., Stumbaugh progressively moved north until he reached Sequim.

"I love it here. There's so much to do."

During his childhood, Stumbaugh's mother was a librarian. On her first day of work, the school principal told her the most important people in the school are the secretaries and custodians because they are essential to making the school run smoothly.

"We custodians are like the tip of an iceberg. You see us but you might not see the work we do immediately, but there is a lot going on below the surface that you don't all see," Stumbaugh said.

Joy Kennedy, a cook and server at Sequim Middle School, has seen the district change as she and her family have changed. Starting 39 years ago as a cook at the former Helen Haller Elementary building, which is now Sequim Community School, she has cooked in all the Sequim schools except Greywolf Elementary on Carlsborg Road.

Originally from Oxfordshire, England, Kennedy met her husband, Richard, and moved to Port Angeles in 1954. They raised seven children in the area and now have 15 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren throughout the U.S.

"I used to cook a lot when my kids were younger, but now I might just open a yogurt," Kennedy said.

"She's a very healthy eater," said co-worker Joan Vennetti.

Kennedy has walked to work every day since she started. The only time Kennedy has taken time off was after she tripped and broke her arm.

"To Joy, every day is a good day. She always comes in smiling," Vennetti said.

"My co-workers help make my day, along with the children," Kennedy said.

"The kids treat me very nice. They keep me young."

While serving food, Kennedy often meets staff that she served when they were children. Her impact goes deep with co-workers such as Dixie Parker, a cook at Greywolf Elementary.

"I lost my mom in 1992 and I adopted her as my mom. She has given me some of the best advice," Parker said.

Kennedy plans to work in the kitchen as long as she can.

"I don't go year to year. I go season to season," she said jokingly.

Shirley Klein pulls double duty for Helen Haller as a paraeducator/teacher's assistant and as a crossing guard. In the mornings, Klein flags students across crosswalks at Fourth and Fifth avenues and Fir Street. Then she helps kindergarten-second-graders learn to read throughout the day.

She normally works in the bungalow, a portable building next to the school. Her job is to help Title I reading students move up into higher levels.

"You have to be real patient and understanding to get our low readers excited about reading," Klein said.

Klein has worked in the district for 27 years as a paraeducator. She started aiding teachers in their classrooms but for the past 10 years she has helped specifically with reading. Klein reads with about 40 students a day. She'll help students with letters and sounds in words. Her favorite children's book is "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown.

"I've found that children have always been receptive to me in some way," Klein said.

She moved to Sequim from North Dakota in 1967 with her husband, Ralph. Klein had four children go through Sequim schools and currently has three grandchildren in Helen Haller with a fourth coming up soon. She plans to retire in June.

Reach Matthew Nash at

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